Staying married for the children

Many parents in troubled marital relationships ask themselves, “Should I stay married for the sake of the children?” “Won’t the kids suffer if we divorce?”

But how confident can parents be that children will be better off if they make sacrifices and remain married?

Obviously, divorce is very stressful. It involves change and uncertainty, which can take a toll on both children and adults.

And divorce is expensive. The costs to litigate can easily run to tens of thousands of dollars per spouse, or even more. Mediation, often costing between $3,000 and $5,000 per couple — not including the price of consulting or review attorneys — can save couples a bundle. While comparatively a bargain as contrasted with litigation, such an amount isn’t pocket change for most of us.

Additionally, maintaining and furnishing two separate homes usually costs more than one: an additional rent or mortgage, a second bed, more clothes, toys, etc.

Avoiding these expenses and others, such as having to pay more for health insurance following a divorce, may allow you and the children to be more comfortable than otherwise.

Then again, living in a dead marriage is very stressful.

If you’re miserable, the kids know it. They may not know why, and may even blame themselves. Not doing what we need to do for ourselves may translate into our not being fully there for them. Demonstrating anger toward the other parent can be very detrimental to children.

What do we teach our kids by staying in unsatisfying relationships? Are we modeling for them, suggesting that marriage is unrewarding and that this is the best they can hope for? Does the lesson carry over to other areas of life; for instance, are we telling our children, “Don’t expect much from your job or career, and stick with it even if you’re very unhappy. Life is about settling because you can’t do any better?”

If you tell a child years later, “We stayed together for you,” know that he may feel burdened, thinking, “My parents were stuck in a lousy marriage and couldn’t move on with their lives because of me.” He may be more hurt by your lack of honesty than by the divorce itself.

Ask yourself, “How would waiting to divorce serve me and the children?” On the other hand, ask, “What are the advantages of divorcing sooner?”

If your daughter is a senior in high school, postponing the upheaval of divorce until after graduation might help her. Further, it might allow you time to save money you will need, research neighborhoods you might want to live in, take classes to make you more marketable in the workplace, and learn about mediation versus going to court.

Does an older child handle divorce better than a younger one? Not necessarily. A very young child may have an easier time with the transition than an 8-year-old or a teenager. Children at different developmental stages can be expected to deal with divorce differently based not only on age, but on gender as well.

Surprisingly to many parents, even adult children are likely to struggle when the marriage ends. Reaching the age of 18 — or 28 — doesn’t make children immune to the emotions and insecurities that younger kids face.

Regardless of their age, children need to feel safe and protected. Tell them they will always be loved by both parents and, if needed, have a roof over their heads.

Divorcing need not lead to devastation. In fact, children can thrive during and after divorce, especially when parents stop fighting in front of them, using them as messengers, and engaging in other destructive behaviors.

If you choose to remain married, don’t use the kids as an excuse. If you, yourself, are afraid to divorce, accept that truth and either work on improving your marriage or strengthening your resolve to leave it. Get stronger, maybe with the help of a therapist.

You’ll be better off, as will your children.

New York City and Long Island-based divorce mediator and collaborative divorce lawyer Lee Chabin, Esq., helps clients end their relationships respectfully and without going to court. Contact him at lee_chabin@lc-mediate.com, (718) 229–6149, or go to lc-mediate.com/home.

Disclaimer: All material in this column is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Discussing your particular case and circumstances with a legal professional before making important decisions is strongly encouraged to safeguard your rights.